Kankakee Valley-Stop the Ethanol Plant v. Starke County Board of Zoning Appeals


Although ethanol is being touted as a renewable and environmentally-friendly fuel, there are serious environmental impacts associated with its unsustainable production process, which relies on fossil fuels. In particular, ethanol production depletes local water supplies, contaminates ground water, increases soil erosion, traffic, noise and odors, and emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and other hazardous pollutants into the air, including probable carcinogens such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde.

Despite the substantial increase in ethanol production due to billions of dollars in government subsidies, energy experts have concluded that ethanol has not and will not reduce oil demand or greenhouse gas emissions. Still, midwest states, including Indiana, are home to the majority of the nation’s existing and planned industrial ethanol production facilities.

On November 15, 2007, the Starke County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) granted a conditional-use permit to the Bio-Energy Development Company to build a plant in the small, quiet town of San Pierre, Ind. The development would create a 27 million gallon waste ethanol plant on land zoned for agricultural use.

The proposed plant, if built, would have consumed 180 gallons of water per minute from the local aquifer; discharged residual pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers to the Kankakee River; brought a minimum of 50 semi-trucks per day in and out of the community; and as stated above, emitted VOCs, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxides and other hazardous pollutants into the air.


LEAF represented Kankakee Valley-Stop the Ethanol Plant (KV-STEP), an ad-hoc group of more than 200 citizens from San Pierre. The group included adjacent land owners who were passionately opposed to the ethanol plant being built in their community.

On December 6, 2007, LEAF filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the Circuit Court of Starke County. The petition sought judicial review of the BZA’s decision and requested that the court enter an Order declaring the BZA decision improper, contrary to law and void as a matter of law. The LEAF lawsuit claimed that the BZA approved the conditional-use in violation of county ordinances and state law. LEAF argued that the BZA failed to consider how the ethanol plant would affect the master plan of the county and the public’s health, safety and welfare.

In addition, the LEAF petition stated that the BZA decision was inconsistent with the general purpose of the applicable zoning ordinance. The proposed plant would constitute heavy industry which is not an appropriate conditional use of land zoned for agriculture. Finally, there was evidence that two BZA members should have excused themselves from voting on the decision due to a conflict of interest.

Due to the lawsuit, BioEnergy announced on September 25, 2008 that it would not build the proposed ethanol plant. Read BioEnergy’s letter.


LEAF’s legal briefs and Court Order Denying the BZA’s Motion to Dismiss


November 15, 2007 – Starke County Residents Fight Against Proposed Ethanol Plant (FOX News.)

January 10, 2008 – Due to LEAF’s lawsuit, developer “not committed totally to the [San Pierre] site” for the proposed ethanol refinery.

April 3, 2008 – Starke County Circuit Court denies the BZA’s and BioEnergy’s Motion to Dismiss

October 8, 2008 – BioEnergy Withdraws Plan to Build Ethanol Plant

BioEnergy Pulls Back on Plant, Post Tribune, Christin Nance Lazerus

LEAF Featured in April Issue of Shore Magazine!
Check out the April issue of Shore Magazine for an article on LEAF’s success in stopping an ethanol refinery from being built in Starke County. Read the article.